18 August 2009

Retrospective 1981

After the fairly lackluster 1980, superheroes were ready for a comeback in '81, offering up a couple of gems that remain nostalgic to this day.

Spider-Man (Solo Series)

In 1981, fans got a double dose of the Web-Head, starting with a Spider-Man solo series consisting of 26 episodes airing into 1982. This series included a number of guest appearances by Namor (and Namorita), Captain America, Magneto, and even the diabolical Dr Doom. Though truer to the comic origins of Spider-Man, it was the other show that ended up a bigger hit.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

Debuting on the same day as the solo series was the Spider-Man team up series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Both series had identical animation styles, though different voice actors. The 24 episodes featured Spidey teamed up with the ice sliding X-Man Ice Man and the original character Firestar. Turns out, originally the Human Torch was to be used, but rights issues struck again (see 1978's Fantastic Four member H.E.R.B.I.E. ) resulting in a female fire-themed creation to complete the fire and ice motif.

The Kid Superpower Hour With Shazam!


While Marvel was webbing in viewers with Spider-Man, DC comics struck back with its own Captain Marvel and Marvel Family characters in the Shazam! series.

Hero High
Of course, the Shazam! cartoons were just half of the "Kid Superpower Hour" which, long before Sky High, consisted of the Hero High cartoon. Hero High was where young superheroes were taught how to use their powers and fight crime. The show was conceived as an extension of the Archie series, but once again, right issues struck resulting in "original" creations. I suspect an avid Archie fan would have no trouble identifying the various personalities within the characters.

Occasionally, the Superpower Hour would include live action segments with poor underpaid souls playing the roles of the Hero High Scholars.

The Greatest American Hero

Believe it or not, 1981 also kicked off the Greatest American Hero series about a bumbling hero that lost the instruction manual to his super suit of alien origin. For 44 episodes over 3 season, the hero never quite got the hang of his suit or its sometimes seemingly limitless powers.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger

Only one quasi-superhero made it to the big screen in '81, The Lone Ranger. This movie angered fans by changing the Ranger's origins and by mistreating in real life the actor who originally played the Ranger on TV. The move pretty much bombed making only $12.6 million.


And of course there was comic book illustrator turned super spy in Condorman.


  1. I had a Shazam T-shirt as a kid. Also, I vaguely remember Spider-man appearing on The Electric Company (Hey you guys!), but not sure what years that would span.

  2. That was back in 1974-77, oh sweet 1977.